Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Increasing Diversity in Outdoor Recreation

I teach environmental education to thousands of school age children here in Indianapolis. Our public schools are full of diversity with children from a large variety of races and creeds. They visit our park for educational field trips with the school. The children will step off the bus with their eyes full of wonder. Familiar with only their urban backyards, many have never stepped foot in a woods before their initial park visit.

They are fascinated to see a Cardinal up close at our bird feeding area. A bird, that sadly I even tend to dismiss at times because it is so common, becomes a miraculous thing, bright red and loud. They excitedly run up, pointing towards it, eager to share their find. "A cardinal, a cardinal" they exclaim.

Our field trips almost always involve a hike. We discuss what does and does not belong in an Indiana forest. Many have grown up with Animal Planet, so I always get "monkeys" as one of the answers. I tell them we do not have monkeys here in Indiana, but they can listen for a bird that sounds like a monkey. We have a pretty reliable Pileated Woodpecker that will sound off. You should see their eyes light up when it does! And sometimes we are even treated to a close view. What a crazy looking bird and it lives here in Indianapolis? That fact really opens their eyes.
We talk about bugs and plants and we may get lucky and spot a slumbering raccoon. But no matter what, we can always hear the birds. And because I am a birder, I rely on them heavily with my programs. They laugh when I do my imitation of the silly Eastern Wood Pewee song. They love hearing the Acadian Flycatcher or "pizza bird", as I call it. I tell them it likes to talk about pizza and they giggle when I tease them about grasshoppers and other yummy bugs as toppings. Many say "This is the best field trip ever!" Most children, no matter what nationality or race, seem delighted and engaged in the great outdoors.

But what happens when they become adults? Why do we lose their interest? They are showing fascination with the natural world as children, but when they become adults, we lose them. This isn't just speculation. Go to most birding event in the United States and look at the crowd. It is almost always predominently white. If we want to protect our natural world, we need to start finding ways to include everyone.

So what can we do to draw in a more diversified crowd? We should work together to find a way to engage other groups. The Black Swamp Bird Observatory has a wonderful workshop coming up Saturday, September 26th, Diversity in the Outdoor Recreation: The Many Faces of Conservation.

Here is the line-up:
The extremely talented Dudley Edmonson will be there with his breath-taking photography. His stunning images have been included in publications from around the world. Even if you cannot make the conference, you should check out his site. Gorgeous photos! He will be presenting "Outdoor Role Models: Black and Brown Faces in America’s Wild Places”.

John C Robinson has worked as a professional ornithologist for over 30 years. He has wrote numerous books and the entire text and computer code for the North American Bird Reference Book CD-ROM. How many authors can claim that! He will be presenting "Birding for Everyone: Changing the Face of Environmental Conservation Through Birding”.

Tamberly Conway and Maricruz Flores will be presenting “Latino Legacy: Improving Connections with Latino Audiences in Recreation, Outreach and Conservation Education Programming”. Ms. Conway is currently working on her PhD in Forestry at Stephen F. Austin State University in Texas and her dissertation focuses on outreach and conservation education programming appropriate for Latino communities. Maricruz Flores is a mentor and team leader for the program “Amigos del Bosque” (Friends of the Forest). She is employed as Partnership Development and Community Outreach Assistant Coordinator for the Latino Legacy community outreach program.

Many of you might be in the Toledo, Ohio area for bird migration at Magee Marsh and the surrounding area. Please consider attending this important conference. More information can be found here.

Cardinal and Pileated Woodpecker photos by John Howard. Eastern Wood Pewee butt by me. :)


  1. Don't you loose their interest as teenagers? Don't they grow out of "kiddie stuff"? And why?

  2. Lovely photos and I enjoyed hearing about your educational outreach program. My 6 year old grandson lives in Indianapolis.

  3. Howdee ..
    had short internet connection when we traveled to get phone calls etc.
    I did a tweet of this event for you..hope it goes well..
    looks awesome..
    wish I could be there!

  4. Janet, Thank you for the wonderful work that you are doing to engage the whole community in an interest in nature, and thank you for mentioning the conference in Toledo on September 26th. We're hoping that the conference can have an impact and can help to increase the diversity we're seeing out there.

  5. Thanks everyone for the comments. Thanks Dawn, for the Tweet!